A number of schools in Lancashire have been accused of failing to pay the wages of teachers who have been told to stay at home because their own children are self-isolating.
An investigation by the Lancashire Telegraph found that under normal circumstances, individual schools would allow a teacher to take paid leave for a period of one day in order to make alternative childcare arrangements if their own child was sick and needed looking after.
However, after being contacted by one teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, it was found that a number of schools across the county had chosen not to pay the teachers whose children self-isolating, if they were to be absent from their role for more than one day.
At the beginning of the month, executive director of education and children’s services at Lancashire County Council, Edwina Grant OBE, said in the Education Coronavirus Bulletin about the Lancashire County Council Area position on paying staff in schools that ‘normally, apart from issuing model policies, supporting schools in personnel terms and by offering insurance, the council would have little further role as the decision is for you’.
Simplified, this means that Lancashire County Council had passed the burden of responsibility over to individual schools, giving them autonomy in their decision making over whether to pay teachers who were required to remain at home because their child had been sent home due to being in an affected bubble.
Lancashire Branch Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Sarah Troughton said: “If a teacher is sent home to self-isolate because someone in the class bubble they teach has tested positive or needs to self-isolate, then the school will continue to pay teachers as normal as arrangements would be made for home learning.
“However, if a teacher’s own child is sent home due to their class bubble being told to self-isolate, and the teacher therefore has to remain off work, Lancashire County Council have said it is up to the individual school to choose whether or not they pay that teacher.
“Normally, the teacher would be given a day’s paid leave to sort out childcare, but these aren’t normal times, and sorting alternative childcare is impossible during Covid – a teacher who is a parent couldn’t possibly ask a child minder or elderly relative to look after their child at this time.”
Ms Troughton said despite LCC ‘advising’ individual schools to keep paying teachers, they haven’t specifically stated this should be done as a matter of course, and have instead left the decision open-ended.
Other councils however, including Blackburn with Darwen, Bury, Greater Manchester and Rochdale, have told the schools within their authorities to keep paying staff should they find themselves in this predicament.
She added: “Blackburn with Darwen Council have been very reasonable from the outset and have been very keen to liaise with the unions, however Lancashire County Council are not helping by giving schools autonomy over whether to pay their teachers or not.
“We know of individual schools who have chosen not to pay their teachers, yes, and we are currently dealing with a few cases and trying to help teachers whom this has happened to.
“We feel absolutely that schools should pay their staff.
“They can’t leave their children at home.
“In normal situations you might be able to ask a partner to look after the child, or a grandparent, but that’s not the case now.
“We know budgets are tight but they have been tight for a long time.
“Schools need to be doing the right thing and paying their teachers.”
Edwina Grant, in her education bulletin message, said she was considering whether the council could recommend to maintained schools to seek agreement from academies that LCC support the position that schools would pay the affected member of staff for the period of time they were required to look after their child and could not undertake their role from home.
She said: “There is no additional cost to the school in the first instance in paying the affected member of staff as salaries are already budgeted for.
“Any supply (teacher) costs that are required would be additional…the school could explore if there are any other options for covering the staff absence rather than supply cover…where all options have been explored and discounted, then the school should consider meeting the cost of supply cover from their budget.”
Ms Grant also suggested that the Schools Forum request for any additional costs incurred as a result of paying supply staff to cover teachers who were off be reimbursed by the Government.
Cabinet member for children, young people, and schools, County Councillor Philippa Williamson, said: “Schools are responsible for managing their own staff and budgets, however we have asked that they continue to pay staff who are having to take extra leave due to caring responsibilities when their own children have to self-isolate.
“We are aware of the burden this is placing on school budgets due to the need to employ agency cover when their staff are unable to work for this reason, however we also recognise that this is a situation brought about by the very difficult context we are operating within and one that is outside of the control of staff having to prioritise childcare commitments.
“This situation will be reflected in schools across the country, and I am writing to the secretary of state for education on behalf of Lancashire schools to highlight this issue.”